Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: Bullet to the Head

Ten minutes into Bullet to the Head, I started to think this was a textbook B-level action movie straight out of the late 80’s/early 90’s.  Twenty minutes later I was sure this would have been more like a C-level movie had it been made back in that era.  Thus, it amazes me that this movie received any sort of theatrical release, even though it was in January, the month where bad theatrical releases go to die.  It’s just that bad.  From writing to directing to acting, this production hits the trifecta of futility and establishes itself as possibly the worst action film of 2013.

The plot of the movie follows Sylvester Stallone’s James Bonomo, a lowlife hit man who gets involved with a job that goes wrong.  Clearly the result of a double cross, he becomes hell bent on exacting revenge.  Sung Kang (as Taylor Kwon), a detective from Washington D.C., joins him as an unlikely partner on this trail as they both seek to bring down citywide corruption.  Throw in an attractive tattoo artist (Sarah Shahi), a sleazy attorney (Christian Slater), an ex-military goon (Jason Momoa), and an international criminal (Adwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and you have the catastrophic mess that is this narrative.

The single greatest problem with this movie is the writing so the biggest slice of the blame pie goes to writer Alessandro Camon.  His attempt at a fish out of water/mismatched partners narrative is unimaginative and so poorly written that much of the dialogue is literally cringe inducing; so much so, that at various points of the movie I questioned whether Camon had ever had an actual conversation with another person.  The dialogue is incredibly disjointed and littered with clich├ęs and tired racial innuendos to the point that the movie’s credibility is exhausted very early on.  And with director Walter Hill’s best days behind him (48 Hours, Brewster’s Millions), very little is done from a production standpoint to mitigate this damage.

As for the work of the cast, this movie serves as a sad reminder of what happens when someone stays in the game too long.  There was a time and place when Sly was an actor in the truest sense and an unmitigated success story of a struggling writer/actor who stuck to his guns with his script for Rocky (insisting he be cast in the lead), and ultimately being thrust into A-list stardom.  Bud sadly, the moderate success of The Expendables franchise aside, the expiration date on his acting career has long since passed.  He has descended into a caricature of himself to such depths not seen since Robert DeNiro and that makes it virtually impossible to take him without a mountain of salt.

Starring opposite Stallone is Sung Kang of Fast & Furious fame.  I am a fan of Kang’s work and find him to be a capable actor, but his portrayal of Detective Taylor Kwan is uneven and fairly banal.  Again, I attribute much of this to how the character is written, but sadly Kang doesn’t have the charisma to elevate the material to something more.  It’s not so much a question of effort, but more the result of his acting DNA.  The same cannot be said for Christian Slater, who has in the past delivered some very good performances, but in Bullet to the Head seems to be along for the paycheck.  Sure, he may not be held in the regard he once was, but that in no way acquits him for a complete lack of effort.

As for the rest of the group, Adwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s character is a jumbled mass of stereotypes and shows no willingness to develop his character beyond this.  Jason Momoa is your prototypical muscle-bound goon straight out of the early 90’s, who probably would have made the movie significantly better had he not actually spoken any lines.  And Sarah Shahi is capable but unremarkable as the tattoo artist daughter of Stallone’s Bonomo. 

For all the attention and lip service paid to actors and (to a lesser extent) directors, the foundation of any good film is the writing.  Without that strong base, it’s nearly impossible to deliver a solid finished product and Bullet to the Head is a glaring example of this.  Given the quality of the writing, the cast and crew never really had a shot at success.  Still, no one does anything of merit to makes this film worthy of a viewing, so I cannot recommend this one under any circumstances.  You should take a complete pass and turn to pretty much any other action movie released on DVD in the last twelve months as an alternative.

Standout Performance:  Sarah Shahi.  She isn’t great, but she doesn’t embarrass herself either.


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